The U.S. Marine Corps is in the midst of a major force redesign aimed at becoming more relevant in the Western Pacific. Unfortunately, part of message has gotten garbled. Just because the Marines want a new class of light amphibious warships for island-hopping operations doesn’t mean they no longer need larger vessels. If the Corps is to continue keeping three amphibious ready groups forward deployed near Europe, the Persian Gulf and China, Marine leaders figure they need a minimum of 31 amphibious assault warships and transport docks. And that’s without allowances for any wartime attrition. It would help if the Navy took advantage of multi-year, multi-ship contracting arrangements to bring down the cost of each vessel, but whether it does or not, fielding a fleet of less than 31 large amphibs would inevitably result in gaps of coverage and delays in responding to crises. One thing the Navy does not need to do, though, is to sustain the fleet objective of 31 by extending the life of decrepit Whidbey Island transports. The Navy needs to stick with its plan to replace the aging relics with more capable vessels based on the LPD-17 San Antonio design. An ongoing study of amphibious force needs is likely to come to precisely that conclusion. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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